Granting me an exclusive interview during the soundchecks of their EP launch, I talked to Elemental Burn in the legendary Hi-Fi Bar and Ballroom (but stiflingly hot!) green room atop the rock-worn stage which has hosted such luminaries as Devin Townsend, Dark Tranquillity and Dragonforce. And that's just the D's! We discuss their gigging, songwriting, keeping it in the family and the future of Australian local talent amid setbacks in the form of some prominent venue closures.
Eyeless Sentry: So, first off, tell me all of your names and what instruments you're in charge of.
Sarah: I'm on vocals.
Brad: Brad on bass.
Andrew: Guitar and vocals.
Nick: I'm on drums.
Ben: And I'm on guitars.
ES: So you all organized this entire night?
Sarah: Yep, that's right.
Nick: It's the third time we organized this sort of show. So we've done this twice before. When was the first time we played here?
Sarah: June 15th. Second was August 10th.
Nick: Every six months or so we end up having a show here.
Sarah: Every few months really. This is our first EP launch here tonight. We've been gigging [as this lineup] for about a year now and we've been together about four years.
Nick: Basically Andrew and myself started it off, four or five years ago, jamming at home after work and all that kind of jazz. Ben came around later and asked if he could join-
Ben: Yeah, I had nothing else better to do.
Sarah: Ben and I were in a band together in high school and well, Andrew sort of stole us after the other band collapsed.
Nick: Brad joined us two days before our very first show.
Sarah: Because our original bass player just left us. But this man over here...he's solid.
ES: Wow, that's amazing! So you guys play just straight-up heavy metal? Or is there more to it?
Sarah: Yeah, definitely. We play heavy rock with metal influences. We've all got very different influences though. So [in the band] it's all brought together.
ES: Is it hard to organize this sort of gig? The Hi-Fi bar is a very well known and highly respected place. Is this paid for by yourselves to promote what you do?
Sarah: Originally it started when I was just starting to book the band everywhere and anywhere that they'd have us play. The Hi-Fi gave us a date and that's how it all started. This is the third time they've had us back, so it goes on track record, giving people a good show.
Andrew: But yes, we do pay for it out of our own pockets, if that's what you're asking. To put all this together and pay for all the advertising, trying to get people here and listening to who we are. We spend a lot of time trying to get people in with our own money.
ES: Does it worry you, as many have mentioned over the past few months, that some great live music venues are closing down. For example, the Arthouse is losing its lease and the Palace Complex has been demolished. Are you guys concerned that local bands, like yourselves, will find it harder to get a gig? Do you think it will discourage new talent?
Sarah: Well there are still lots of venues around. If it started happening frequently, it would be much worse. Say if the Espy went, or the Brunswick Hotel went...those smaller pubs that its much easier to get a spot at, it would get hard.
Nick: I think that the [Palace Complex] was the biggest loss [Melbourne] has ever had.
Sarah: That was a great venue.
Nick: A lot of international acts had it as their first choice when they came down...people just weren't aware of the money that comes through that door, you know? I would have loved to have played there.
ES: I also heard from a source that the Tote Hotel's lease is ending as well. Apparently it's going to be renovated and turned into something else.
Sarah: The Tote will be sorely missed.
(Note: After some investigation after this interview was conducted, it was found that it will become a gourmet pizza parlor and dance club.)
ES: You say you have many influences. As I can see over here (pointing to Brad's T-Shirt) we've got At The Gates, classic melodic death metal over here.
Nick: I'm into death metal as well, rock...metal...a bit of everything.
Andrew: I love my...Led Zeppelin. Jimi Hendrix. Pink Floyd... I like my newer stuff as well as Metallica, Soul Assassins.
Sarah: My favorite all time band was Skunk Anansie which are no longer together. British band, chick singer. Chick singers get me.
ES: Definitely. Since you have so many influences, what's the dynamic like when approaching songwriting?
Ben: Sometimes its done by one person. Other times we all have our little parts to contribute or sometimes we just sort of jam one out and we have a song.
Andrew: [Society's Snare] was written like that, actually. I started playing something, Ben started playing something else, that was it! It was like a real collaboration. The song was made in like, five minutes (laughs)
Sarah: Songs like Taxman was written solely by Andrew and we just play our parts.
ES: So it's really group instead of individually focussed.
Nick: Well yeah. I'm actually a guitarist as well as a drummer, so I usually contribute all sorts of ideas when it comes to songwriting.
Sarah: I'd say that Andrew and I are probably the main lyric writers. Ben sometimes writes as well.
Andrew: You can hear it all on our [EP, Prologue]. [Local independent radio station] Triple R reckons it has a great 70s sound to it. We recorded it on analog equipment as well as a Mac so its a great blend of the old and the new technology.
ES: Cool. How was the recording overall?
Andrew: Yeah, it was great. We set up our own studio in a warehouse. So it was great having no time constraints just laying down our instruments, laid them down after six or seven takes and our producer chopped up a bit and there we had it, a finished product.
ES: This is one of the venues that Devin Townsend has played at-
Nick: Cannibal Corpse, Deicide...you name it. They've all played here.
Andrew: It's a good gig.
ES: Definitely! It's remarkable that Melbourne has these venues where local and international acts can share the same stage, don't you think?
Andrew: Sometimes bands can't get a gig here, but if you have a line-up ready to go, then it's much easier. Our first gig ran on the minute - everyone was off and on time. The show ran smoothly enough for us to have another go. They're careful not to take too much of a risk, you know?
ES: And Myspace and social networking websites help a lot to get numbers through the door, I would think.
Sarah: It's a pretty good tool. You might not get people coming to your show from Myspace, you get a network up and running so it's good in that way. I actually book a lot of the bands we gig with through MySpace, and their contacts become my contacts.
Andrew: We even got some bands from [National Youth broadcaster] Triple J Unearthed [competition, for unsigned local talent.] We rang up the ones we thought were good and offered them a gig.
We talked a little more about the family aspect of the band.
ES: So It's a real family affair in this band.
Andrew: Well yeah, Ben and Brad are brothers, Nick and I are cousins and Sarah and I are married.
Brad: Yeah, we're brothers from another mother.
ES: So you're all just doing what you love. There's no sound you're particularly looking for or any pretensions like that?
Nick: Yeah, well we don't have any particular sound, we just play what we come across and what we like.
Andrew: Exactly. When you listen us, you're going to hear pop, metal, blues, all kinds of stuff. Taxman is a flat out blues song, Arm Breaker is a flat-out metal song - it's just got double-kicks all over the place but we also have tracks like Sacrifice which you could almost hear on the radio, you know? I don't see why we should be restricted to one valley when we can walk the whole hill...that's the great thing about how we go about writing our songs. I might write an entire song, but it's not finished until everyone's pitched in with their parts and suggestions and once that's done, it's the polished product. We're cool with jamming something for a month and looking at it and saying 'this bit's a bit off, let's get rid of that.' Even our setlist for tonight's gig we've been jamming on it for about six weeks and Sarah says 'I don't like this song' so we swapped it with this song and said 'yeah, that's good enough, let's play that.' (all laugh)
Andrew: We're so easy going and that's what gives us so much breathing space, because we are so easy going. When someone suggests something, everybody knows that it's right. No one ever suggests anything stupid, it's all pretty valid. If something out of the ordinary pops up, everyone has their heads that screwed on that they'll realize that it isn't any good or whatever. It gets played that way and we get a good sound because that's how we do it. We have really good communication between all of us. There's never any 'wars' between us. Its all open and friendly.
ES: So you've known each other for a while.
Andrew: I've known Ben for about fifteen years.
Brad: Yeah, I've known Sarah about the same. Andrew for about ten years.
Andrew: The other bass player we had, we didn't know from a bar of soap. And look what happened. We had our first gig and he shit himself. We got Brad to replace him and said 'We have a gig tomorrow. Start learning all the songs.'
Andrew: We told the crowd on the night: 'You know how long [Brad]'s been in our band? A Year? Six months? Try eighteen hours. So don't pick on him if he makes any mistakes.' And he wasn't even a bassist, he's actually a drummer.
ES: So you're not a bassist by trade? So you just sort of picked it up?
Brad: Well, I'd been playing guitar on and off. Just messing around.
Andrew: He had a fair idea. He had a good foundation at the very least. Now we know he's the right fit, you know? He wasn't like our other bassist who took over a day to do his bass tracks. Ben and I laid down our parts in three hours. Ben had to take me out the front because I was that upset about it. We'd told him for weeks to practice...and when it came time to record...well, look at this shit!
ES: You would have had to pay for the privilege as well.
Andrew: Yeah, we had to pay for it. But it was a learning experience. But now we have our own warehouse, getting the sound we want and we don't have some pedantic know-it-all studio guy telling us we don't know anything and what to do. We're sitting around knocking down beers and having a good time. We have this feedback part in Snare that had me in the booth for like three hours. We nailed it and we were jumping around like little Smurfs! (All laugh) We had a lot of fun doing it, it's always a lot of fun.
ES: So it's all about having a few drinks, a few laughs and a few tunes.
Nick: It's how we got together; partying on, listening to tunes we love. It's the only way we should write.
Ben: It's great fun learning a new song, playing it. I love it.
Nick: After a jam I feel really pumped afterward. I could rock up tired but come out really energized at the end.
Andrew: We jam three times a week and that sort of commitment really does show. We live all over the place to jam in our warehouse, so you need to be committed. I think it's wicked to see everyone doing that. It makes you feel good inside because you know that you're going to play so well when everyone's put so much effort in. No one else has something like this. We play our hour set and we feel great because we nail it every time. In a couple of years time, hopefully people will realize what we're about.
Nick: I think we're trying to keep it organic. To let it build up as it comes along, rather than forcing everybody into doing it. I wish we could nail stuff first time, but the overall evolution will always be organic.
Andrew: The way it's gone on has been excellent. It's been very comfortable for all of us so far. We've had a five-year plan and we've almost achieved it. It's going to be very exciting.
Elemental Burn's debut EP, Prologue, can be ordered through their MySpace page.